What Is the Purpose of 'The News?' You Decide
On Jan. 24, a young writer for the widely read blog Mashable.com listed former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman as No. 1 on a list of the most corrupt governors in recent American history.
Colin Dailleda, a Columbia Journalism School grad formerly employed at the liberal blog Think Progress, erroneously stated that Siegelman had pocketed campaign contributions.
That error led him to write that Siegelman was number one on a list of the most corrupt governors of modern times.
The blogger gave his readers no hint of the nationwide outcry against Siegelman's prosecution, which has been described as a political frame-up by many commentators (including here). This week, however, Alabama blogger Cliff Sims leveraged the Mashable.com smear to describe Siegelman as the most corrupt governor in American history – an outrageous, near-nonsensical exaggeration.
Let's reflect on such performance and the readily available facts.
Why, I wonder, do we even bother to read the news or care about it? If we learn something important most of us cannot do much that is useful in response.
This column proposes a novel, bottom-up solution to the problems arising from a misinformed and powerless public.
First, let's examine the Mashable.com story more closely.
Siegelman is far from alone in thinking his treatment unfair. For example, 113 former top law enforcers from more than 40 states concluded that Siegelman's key actions in 1999 in asking a wealthy man to donate to a non-profit did not constitute a crime.
Never in American history has such a bipartisan coalition ever protested a conviction in this fashion. That's the real story.
Furthermore, the blogger omitted the prosecution's police state tactics and the years of mind-boggling judicial scandals that perverted the case's outcome. An independent look at the facts shows that the nearly two-decade probe, prosecution and imprisonment will be a bipartisan disgrace that will taint the legacy of both President Obama and President Bush.
I have shared that truth face-to-face as nicely as possible to President Obama's first two White House counsels, both well-connected VIPs, during chance encounters in Washington, where I work. One, Gregory Craig of Skadden Arps, has taken on a Siegelman appeal pro bono.
But the appeal is likely to be an exercise in futility in a kangaroo court procedure that has helped frame the defendants since the beginning of their two trials apiece. As background, my group is non-partisan, and does not represent Siegelman, his co-defendants, supporters, or anyone similarly situated.
The defendant's ordeal is deeply shocking, as is the devastation inflicted by an out-of-control government on totally innocent colleagues, Republican and Democratic co-defendants, witnesses, and their family members.
Piling on for apparently partisan purposes, however, an Alabama-based blogger used the Mashable.com article Jan. 27 as the basis for a headline: Siegelman bribes named worst scandal ever by an American governor. For good measure, the Alabama blogger cited Mashable.com as the nation's most influential social media blog -- as if that settled Siegelman's guilt.
Thanks to technology and a misinformed public, our civic life is increasingly chronicled by such neophytes and partisans who parrot government spin as gospel.
For nearly three decades, I have researched hyped-up or suppressed news stories. The topic inspired my first book 25 years ago, shown at right, Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper. "The technique is the Big Lie, and make it come true," one outraged newspaper reader told me at the time about a pseudo-scandal hurting his community.
My latest book, Presidential Puppetry, reveals major political stories of great national importance that are unreported or under-reported by the major media, which promote slogans about honest news but do not dare authorize their reporters to ask the truly powerful tough questions about their secrets.
In view of such developments, I floated a big picture question to an accomplished and friendly editor of many years experience as we relaxed recently at a DC restaurant. Through the decades, he had worked his way up from cub reporter to important news management posts.
Even with success, he still enjoyed swapping colorful tales of scoops, political intrigues, and dare-devil reporting.
"What do you think, " I asked, "is the real purpose of the news industry?"
"To make money," he responded cheerfully, "for those who are in it!"
Surely, there must be additional purposes.
As one who has researched these issues for many years, I identify several possibilities below. I ask readers here to share your own comments publicly or privately.
- Money-making. "I buy newspapers to make money, to make more money, to buy more newspapers, to make more money," the late Canadian media tycoon Roy (later Lord) Thomson (1894-1976) once said. "As for the editorial content, that's the stuff we separate the ads with." The American Journalism Review quoted part of his comment in State of The American Newspaper In Lord Thomson’s Realm. A son of a barber, Thomas sold radios in Northern Ontario before purchasing a station himself for $200 in 1931. He son and heir, Kenneth Thomson, died in 1976 as Canada's richest man with personal wealth from his trans-Atlantic media empire valued at $20 billion. That's nice for their family. How about yours?
- Power for affiliated companies. As fewer news outlets are owned by standalone media companies dependent on advertisements and paid circulation, even large news organizations find their greatest value not in breaking news, but in influencing politics, especially government regulation and contracting authority affecting a news outlet's parent company and affiliates. As I wrote in Presidential Puppetry, the Tribune companies and CBS News have been heavily dependent on favorable federal regulation at key junctures for their media properties. A particularly interesting case involves the Washington Post, purchased last year by Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos for $250 million. Shortly afterward, Amazon.com secured a $600 million contract to handle the CIA's advanced cloud-based web needs. The CIA contract, already dwarfing the Post purchase price and 4% revenue from circulation, could lead to other relationships with government agencies benefiting the owner of the Post, one of the nation's most influential news organizations.
- Entertainment. The media's role as an entertainment provider is not new, although evidence abounds that the role is growing in proportion to serious news. The popularity of Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, Amos and Andy, Shirley Temple and even Mickey Mouse help propel not just the media economy but the overall economy beginning in the 1920s. But there were also thousands of newspapers covering the guts of government closely, as well as an occasional syndicated columnist/broadcaster Drew Pearson (and his younger partner Jack Anderson) or Will Rogers to spice things up with hard-hitting commentary fighting for the common man. There is no equivalent today to Rogers, Pearson or Anderson.
- Survival Instinct. The human need for timely information stems from our prehistoric past and helps explain the current upheaval in the news business, according to a thoughtful book in 2010 by veteran editor and former Tribune president Jack Fuller, at right. Fuller explained his in-depth research in What is Happening to News? He later amplified it on my weekly radio show Washington Update, among other places. More specifically (in the language of the book's dust-jacket), his research describes "why the information overload of contemporary life makes us increasingly receptive to sensational news, while rendering the staid, detached voice of standard journalism more detached by the day."
- Public Service. The role of the press, aka media, in advancing democracy is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is otherwise too well-known to require much amplification here. But a new twist might would be a renewed popular emphasis on a search for truth, no matter where it leads.
To implement these public service ideas, we are going to announce here soon a reform initiative called The Truth Patrol. Those involved must commit to pursue the truth even if the facts turn out to hurt one's favored party leaders or other interests. The reward will be knowledge, self-empowerment -- and at least small steps to a better country.
This initiative has been a long time in gestation. For me, it's been more than a quarter century. Above, I illustrated that journey by noting my 1987 book, Spiked. The book has been out of print for years. So, only used book outlets sell it, with no revenue to me.
Even a new book faces the daunting economics prevalent in the book business, which has such narrow margins that many bookstores and related professionals are going out of business even as vast numbers of books are published by hopeful authors, including reformers. Most have scant distribution or sales. Steve Harrison, a prominent industry analyst, says 95 percent of all books sell fewer than 500 copies, and 10,000 in sales is extremely rare.
My primary purpose of mentioning Spiked or Presidential Puppetry here is because a book is the best format for starting important discussions, especially if the topic is one unwelcome at traditional newspapers and broadcasters.
Presidential Puppetry is not just a revelation of specific past scandals in public life, but a way of understanding new information involving the law, politics, media, and other important power centers. For instance, news reports are excerpted below that cover a range of changes in North American media, beginning with the nation's oldest newspaper in continuous publication, where I worked for 14 years beginning in 1970.
These news samples include a court decision this month that could radically change the Internet. Michael Copps, an historian and a longtime FCC Commissioner (who kept Spiked on his office coffee table or office bookcase during much of his FCC tenure), was quoted this month as saying the court decision will make the Internet much more like cable service than the content-neutral platform we now know. This will inevitably empower those who control the platform -- to the detriment of content-creating users.
One area I have been in a position to document is the huge impact of intelligence and defense contracts on what appears to be ordinary public life.
The millions of taxpayer dollars spent on police state tactics prosecuting Siegelman for so many years, for example, make sense only by understanding the huge financial windfalls for insiders who benefit from defense contracts and gambling regulation ventures facilitated by his imprisonment.
As a small indication of the stakes, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff told me he personally raised $20 million from gambling interests more than a decade ago to oppose Siegelman and his policies. Somebody must have thought that was a good investment, and that's only a tiny part of the stakes. Isidro Garza Jr., former manager of the only legalized gambling facility in Texas and a friend of Abramoff's, told me $20 million is a modest sum for gambling promoters to help ensure the right kind of regulation.
Those financial stakes and also the largely national security connections deter any rigorous oversight of the legal system, as we have often documented in Justice Integrity Project columns and in Presidential Puppetry. In other words, the high-level frame-up of Siegelman in the courts and cover-up elsewhere stems in a logical -- albeit reprehensible -- manner from the fabulous power and money at stake when the system targets someone like him or others similarly situated across the country.
Naturally, none of those undertaking the routine reporting on these matters are invited into the inner-sanctums and provided a road map to all the secrets. Instead, those informing the public are for the most functioning largely as stenographers for prosecutors and other authorities who are, in turn, doing what they are told for the most part. Those manipulating the system are rarely elected, appointed or otherwise subject to real scrutiny. They are the puppet masters, whose minions are the performers on stage.
To help illustrate this process, Puppetry will be published here soon on this website in serial format at no cost. Electronic copies will be available also at no cost to participants in The Truth Patrol, which will be a volunteer, no-cost organization. We'll be announcing more details here soon. In the meantime, write me Andrew [at] TruthPatrolShow.com.
Given the challenges for reform efforts, I found it especially gratifying that a recent newspaper review of Puppetry was written by someone who knew me from three decades ago. Reviewer Andy Thibault, who went on to achieve an impressive career in legal commentary and otherwise, was able to extrapolate that long-ago impression of our work into an understanding of the current situation confronting the public.
I was heartened also that the review, Kreig’s ‘Presidential Puppetry’ gives road map to master manipulators, appeared in the New Haven Register, among other sites of his syndicated column. New Haven is where I first attended law school. More important, it was there that I acquired learning tools helpful for more reflection than most of us in the news business can devote to the business, given its ever-present deadlines.
Bottom line: I hope that we can share ideas over the coming weeks -- and keep up the fight! Stay tuned, which is best accomplished by signing up for the automatic RSS feed here to learn about new columns regarding suggested next steps.
In the meantime, remember the KEY: Knowledge Empowers You!
Related News Coverage
Editor's note: I contacted for comment the bloggers who authored the two columns below, but failed to receive a response. Mashable.com, founded in 2005 and with offices in New York and California, keeps its contact information confidential for the most part except through social media. Via Twitter, Mashable's Colin Daileda did inform Alabama blogger Cliff Sims, however, that Mashable's feature position for Siegelman as first on its list of corrupt governors did not necessarily mean that he was the worst, only No. 1. Meanwhile, Siegelman's daughter, Dana, at right, and her brother Joseph have worked with supporters around the country to educate the public on how political prosecutions proceed in the United States.
Mashable.com, 11 Political Scandals Worse Than Chris Christie's (So Far), Colin Daileda, June 24, 2014. The media's attention surrounding New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie has held steady at a fever pitch since Jan. 8, when emails between one of his staffers and another appointee showed the two helped to orchestrate a massive four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J., allegedly as a plot to exact political revenge on the Fort Lee mayor. And once the floodgates cracked, they swung wide open. The scale of coverage makes sense to some, given Christie was — and arguably still is — the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. But others are baffled because, despite the multiple headaches, Christie hasn't been directly linked to anything. You can't say the same about other governors, though, many of whom have spent many days in courtrooms and even jail cells following their terms in office. Below, we've mapped out some of the biggest governor scandals in recent memory, and you can check out the full-screen version of the map here.
No. 1 Don Siegelman. Siegelman was convicted of taking bribes in return for campaign donations and is currently around two years into a 6.5 year prison term. He seems hopeful that he will be exonerated at some point by the Supreme Court or President Barack Obama for what he feels was an unfair conviction orchestrated by a politically biased Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush.
Yellowjacket News, Siegelman bribes named worst scandal ever by an American governor, Cliff Sims, Jan. 27, 2014. One of the most read technology and media sites on the internet has named former Ala. Gov. Don Siegelman’s bribery scandal the worst ever by an American governor. In a post titled “11 Political Scandals Worse Than Chris Christie’s,” Mashable.com lays out what they believe are the “biggest governor scandals in recent memory.”
Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 17, 2014. An Alabama judge imposed a 90-day sentence this week on corruption-fighting Alabama blogger Roger Shuler, who is jailed indefinitely in a libel case brought by a prominent attorney. Meanwhile, a New York Times reporter tried so hard to be balanced that he underplayed the damage to the public from the court system's outrageous confiscation of Shuler's rights.
OpEd News, What Federal Judge Fuller's Ugly Divorce Has to Do with Don Siegelman, (Interview of Andrew Kreig by Joan Brunwasser), May 25, 2012. The government's frame-up of Siegelman, Alabama's most popular Democrat, was the culmination of a two-decade plan by Karl Rove and his business allies to transform Alabama state politics and courts from historically Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Parallel developments occurred also in Mississippi and Louisiana, but it was most dramatic in Alabama, where Rove and the Bush family have longstanding ties and where the historically Democratic black population is the smallest of any Deep South state. This rout of Democrats has left the party so enfeebled that the national party has in effect ceded to Republicans much of the control over the justice system in these regions, as otherwise in the guts of government. For example, the Obama administration left in office until last spring the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney who helped frame Siegelman, and then named as her successor a man who as a defense attorney represented the chief witness against Siegelman. This created a perverse incentive to keep a lid on the scandals. Further, Congress is abandoning its watchdog role except in a few partisan matters. In this case, we now know that some prominent Democrats from Alabama in effect sold out Siegelman for their own selfish purposes by bad-mouthing him and trial critics behind-the-scenes in Washington.
Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. 300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contraHuffington Post Jailed For Asking Questionscts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income.
Other Media Issues
Huffington Post, Jailed For Asking Who, What, Where and Why, Eric Matthies, Feb. 2, 2014. The column's author is producer of "Killing the Messenger," a 2013 documentary co-produced and directed by Tricia Todd. Forty in Turkey. Thirty five in Iran. Thirty two in China. Two in Russia. One in the United States. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), those numbers represent only some of the imprisoned journalists in 2013. One hundred and one more of their peers are behind bars in 30 other countries, bringing the count to 211. In the same year, Reporters Without Borders counts 178 journalists and 164 "netizans" (mostly bloggers) jailed. Regardless of whose numbers are quoted, this census of captivity is a daunting reminder of the global use of legally mandated censorship
New Haven Register, Kreig’s ‘Presidential Puppetry’ gives road map to master manipulators, Andy Thibault, left, Dec. 31, 2013. Andrew Kreig covered federal courts in the 1970s for the Hartford Courant. His reporting on the 2008 and 2012 elections inspired him to probe who really pulls the strings in Washington. The result is a most provocative book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. Kreig broke the story of how President-elect Obama’s transition team feared a revolt if the new commander in chief pushed prosecution of CIA officials for torture and other crimes. Presidential Puppetry documents how Obama is among all recent U.S. presidents who have fostered confidential relationships with the CIA or FBI before they entered politics. Editor's Note: This review was published also in the Torrington Register-Citizen and Middletown Press.
Hartford Business.com, Hartford Courant seeks revenue as spinoff saps finances, Brad Kane, Jan. 27, 2014. The Hartford Courant had plenty of challenging years recently, but 2014 will be a doozy. Around mid-year, the 250-year-old publication's parent, Chicago-based Tribune Co., will spin off the Courant and seven other daily newspapers into a separate, stand-alone publishing division that has lost subscribers and revenue steadily for the past five years. As part of the sendoff, Tribune newspapers will be saddled with new debt and expenses, including rental payments on properties they previously owned. Revenues, too, will take a hit as Tribune keeps to itself key online assets. Publisher Nancy Meyer, 50, said the Courant brand is tantamount; and even if fewer people are picking up the print edition, the community still seeks out the publication for its investigative, high-quality, and expensive journalism on different platforms. Meyer said her strategic plan is to gradually shift more resources to serve the Courant's digital audience of the future, while still maintaining a strong print product for today's audience. To make up for lost print advertising revenue, Meyer said she will explore new revenue streams, including a paywall for Courant.com, hosting major events, and offering contracted digital services like web design and development.
Hartford Courant, The Courant — 250 Years Old And Counting, Staff report, Dec. 31, 2013. The Hartford Courant will embark on a year-long celebration to mark an unprecedented milestone in American journalism – 250 years of continuous publication – on January 1st. From the American Revolution to the digital revolution, the Courant has reported stories, events and ideas that shaped Connecticut and the United States. During 2014, the year that marks the 250th anniversary of the Courant as the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, the organization will look back at these unforgettable moments and stories and look ahead as the media landscape continues to change dramatically. Older than the nation, the Courant was founded on October 29, 1764 as a weekly newspaper (entitled then as The Connecticut Courant) and has never missed a publication since its inception. See also, Introduction, by Jim Shea, Jan. 1, 2014.
Washington Post, Jeff Bezos to his future Washington Post journalists: Put the readers first, Paul Farhi and Craig Timberg, Sept. 4, 2013. Jeffrey P. Bezos had a simple bit of advice for the staff of the newspaper he’ll soon own: Put readers, not advertisers, first. Don’t write to impress each other. And above all, “Don’t be boring.”
FireDogLake, The CIA, Amazon, Bezos and the Washington Post: An Exchange with Executive Editor Martin Baron, Norman Solomon, Jan. 8, 2014. Washington Post’s Martin Baron says owner Jeff Bezos ‘[n]ever will be involved in our coverage of the intelligence community.” A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.”
Common Cause via Institute for Public Accuracy, 'Net Neutrality' Ruling Poised to Make Web into “Something that Looks Like Cable TV,” Michael Copps, right, Jan. 14, 2014. The New York Times reports: “A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out Federal Communications Commission rules that require Internet service providers to give all traffic equal access through their networks.” Michael Copps, a former longtime Democratic FCC commissioner and special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Initiative, released a statement: “The Court’s decision today is poised to end the free, open, and uncensored Internet that we have come to rely on. People depend on the Open Internet to connect and communicate with each other freely. Voters need it to inform themselves before casting ballots. Without prompt corrective action by the Commission to reclassify broadband, this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech.”
Politico, Omidyar previews 'First Look Media' venture, Dylan Byers, Jan. 27, 2014. Pierre Omidyar, the tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, on Monday released a video with new details on his forthcoming journalism venture, First Look Media, which is set to launch later this year. “First Look Media is a marriage between a technology company and a new kind of newsroom,” Omidyar, the founder of eBay, announces in the video. “Our goal is to experiment, innovate and overcome existing obstacles to make it easier for journalists to deliver the transformative stories we all need.” The highly anticipated site was first announced after news broke that Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published many of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, would be leaving the Guardian to join Omidyar’s new venture. But far from focusing exclusively on Greenwald’s style of government watchdog reporting, First Look will be a general-interest news organization as devoted to sports and entertainment as it is to politics and foreign policy. It will also feature digital magazines based on specific topics. “The flagship site will have a number of sources of content, from aggregation to breaking news to in-house investigative journalism,” Eric Bates, who joined First Look from Rolling Stone and will serve as a lead editor, told Politico. “The intent from the get-go was to be a broad, general-interest publication,” Bates said. First Look is still in the start-up phase, Bates said, and has yet to concern itself with revenue models.
Wall Street Journal, News Websites Proliferate, Stretching Thin Ad Dollars, William Launder, Jan. 27, 2014. Many Generate Revenue by Hosting Conferences. Big profits in online news may be as scarce as buried gold but that isn't deterring journalists and investors from rushing into the sector. In the past few months, about a dozen companies have announced new ventures related to online news, often in specialized areas such as media or technology. The latest is former Washington Post journalist Ezra Klein, who has been hired to launch a general-news site at Vox Media, owner of the tech and media website the Verge. "It's becoming a very crowded market," said Neil Doshi, an Internet analyst at CRT Capital. "There is a bubble mentality occurring right now." The new publishers are confident in their prospects, citing increased Internet usage and marketers' desire to reach highly targeted audiences through niche content sites and new forms of digital advertising. But ad buyers and industry executives say the proliferation of new sites and automation in ad sales is driving down advertising pricing—by as much as 70% in some cases—making it tougher for sites to turn a profit from traditional online advertising. More news sites means more ad space is available. "Though we’re a digital company, we’re also seeing a return to the fundamentals of journalism, to the stuff that has been cut in recent years,” Bates said.
American Journalism Review, State of The American Newspaper In Lord Thomson’s Realm, William Prochnau, October 1998. In small towns across America, the Canadian-born chain struggles with its penny-pinching legacy. A little more than 100 miles northwest of the Washington Beltway, in the fishhook of western Maryland, Breakneck Hill looks down somberly on Interstate 68 where the highway cuts through one of the first low passes into Appalachia. For the purposes of this journey the little hump in I-68 creates one other significant barrier--the almost impenetrable wall between two small-town newspaper monopolies, the Hagerstown Herald Mail, owned by the Indiana-based Schurz group, and the Thomson chain's Cumberland Times-News, nestled down in the hollow just ahead. It creates that invaluable monopoly turf. Roy Thomson, left (1894-1976), never visited this place. But, as the penultimate newspaper monopolist, he would have loved it. The mountainous geography around Cumberland pens in the kind of territorial stronghold out of which he mined one of the least known but most astounding newspaper fortunes -- and showed others how to do it, too. Thomson was one of the most unlikely newspaper barons in the checkered history of a colorful business. A Canadian, he was halfway through his life before he ever dipped his fingers into printers' ink. He was almost 40 years old, at the height of the Great Depression, when he first dusted the cobwebs off a used printing press in Timmins, Ontario. For $200 down. he began an empire knowing nothing about journalism except that, as he later put it, news was "the stuff you separate the ads with." In 2008, Thomson acquired a majority stake in the venerable U.K.-based wire service Reuters.
Justice Integrity Project, Radio Show: Jack Fuller on 'What Is Happening To the News,' Andrew Kreig, June 15, 2011. On Washington Update, my radio show guest this week on June 16 will be Jack Fuller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, former Tribune Publishing Co. president and author of the insightful book, What is Happening to the News. In answering that question, the veteran newsman reaches deep into psychology and other social studies to suggest how news is changing because the audience is changing. Fuller, a former attorney at the Justice Department during the early 1970s, introduces his book’s approach as follows:
Across America, newspapers that have defined their cities for over a century are rapidly failing, their circulations plummeting even as opinion-soaked Web outlets like the Huffington Post thrive. Meanwhile, nightly news programs shock viewers with stories of horrific crime and celebrity scandal. Is it any wonder that young people are turning away from the news entirely, trusting comedians like Jon Stewart as their primary source of information on current events? A new factor, Fuller says, is that lots of the messages, whether marketing or personal, are addressed to us directly by name. “The advertising messages that we get today are at least as personal as the personal messages we get.” He says this process creates significant new challenges for the human brain. Fuller is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who spent nearly forty years working in newspapers, serving as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and as president of the Tribune Publishing Company. He is the author of seven novels, as well as News Values: Ideas for an Information Age. Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center awarded his latest book its 2011 Goldsmith Prize as the trade book that best improves democratic governance by examining the intersection between the media, politics and public policy. Details on the book are available via its publisher and Amazon.com.
Gawker, Listen to Hundreds of Journalists Getting Fired, Sarah Hedgecock, Jan. 29, 2014. Patch, the hyper-local news experiment that launched in 2007, laid off as many as two thirds of its staff on Wednesday, reports Jim Romenesko. The venture, which was bought by Hale Global earlier this month, has been plagued with problems for nearly its entire existence. Patch never made money. Even after it was bought by AOL in 2009, it didn't make money. When AOL finally realized it was never going to make money, it first shuttered a bunch of Patch sites and then decided to get rid of it entirely. It's unclear at this point exactly how many staffers were laid off, but one of Romenesko's tipsters claims it's as many as "80 to 90 percent of Patchers."
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Politico, Out of prison, Kerik urges reform, Maggie Haberman, Jan. 28, 2014. Bernie Kerik, the former Rudy Giuliani aide and New York City police chief who spent years locking people up, is using his own time in a federal prison as a launch pad to call for a systemwide overhaul. Kerik will give a speech in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, arguing that the criminal justice system is “in dire need of repair,” the former Department of Homeland Security nominee told POLITICO in an interview. “No one with my experience and background has ever been inside the system, so it’s given me a real, one-of-a-kind, very unique experience,” Kerik said. Kerik was soaring to new heights in a crime-fighting career after serving as Giuliani’s police commissioner when he was nominated by former President George W. Bush to lead DHS in 2004. But a lengthy New York Daily News probe of his background revealed links to an allegedly mob-tied company, and he admitted to having free work done by that firm on his home. He later pleaded guilty, in 2009, to tax evasion and being dishonest with the White House during the vetting process when he was nominated. He was released from federal prison after serving three years behind bars, a time that he says altered his view of the way in which the system shatters lives.
Daily Star (Lebanon), Anti-terrorism has driven police abuse, Paul Detrick, Feb. 3, 2014. In October 2009, Shawn Nee, an award-winning photographer, was stopped by officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department while taking pictures of turnstiles in the L.A. subway. According to the officers, Nee was engaged in "suspicious terrorist activity." "I want to know if you are in cahoots with Al-Qaeda to sell these pictures to them for a terrorist purpose," LASD Deputy Richard Gylfie told Nee, according to footage shot by a body camera Nee wears while working. This sort of encounter, in which local cops harass ordinary citizens engaged in constitutionally protected behavior, has become disturbingly frequent in cities across the United States, largely because federal anti-terrorism funding has made local law enforcement agencies major participants in the "war on terror." The LASD report on the incident calls the officers' actions "laudable" and praises their "vigilance," adding that they "are encouraging others to be as proactive." Civil libertarians disagree. "Photography is not a crime; it's artistic expression," says Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California who is representing Nee in his lawsuit against the LASD.
OpEdNews, The Fukushima Secrecy Syndrome -- From Japan to America, Ralph Nader, right, Jan. 26, 2014. Last month, the ruling Japanese coalition parties quickly rammed through Parliament a state secrets law. We Americans better take notice. Under its provisions the government alone decides what are state secrets and any civil servants who divulge any "secrets" can be jailed for up to 10 years. Journalists caught in the web of this vaguely defined law can be jailed for up to five years. Government officials have been upset at the constant disclosures of their laxity by regulatory officials before and after the Fukushima nuclear power disaster in 2011, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). There is good reason why the New York Times continues to cover the deteriorating conditions in the desolate, evacuated Fukushima area. Our country has licensed many reactors here with the same designs and many of the same inadequate safety and inspection standards. Week after week, reports appear in the press revealing the seriousness of the contaminated water flow, the inaccessible radioactive material deep inside these reactors and the need to stop these leaking sites from further poisoning the land, food and ocean. Officials now estimate that it could ake up to 40 years to clean up and decommission the reactors.
Reuters, China jails prominent rights activist for four years, Jan. 26, 2014. A court sentenced one of China's most prominent rights advocates to four years in prison on Sunday after he campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities and for officials to disclose their assets. Xu Zhiyong's jailing will send a stark warning to activists that the Chinese Communist Party will crush any challenge to its rule, especially from those who seek to organize campaigns. It also diminishes hopes for meaningful political change, even as China pledges to embark on economic reforms. Separately, one of China's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, who frequently accuses authorities of infringing civil liberties, said police had summoned him on a charge of "suspicion of causing a disturbance."
New York Times, Pennsylvania voter ID law struck down, Rick Lyman, Jan. 18, 2014. In a strongly worded decision, a state judge on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s 2012 law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID at the polls, setting up a potential Supreme Court confrontation that could have implications for other such laws across the country. The judge, Bernard L. McGinley of Commonwealth Court, ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, with the burden falling most heavily on elderly, disabled
and low-income residents, and that the state’s reason for the law — that it was needed to combat voter fraud — was not supported by the facts. “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election,” the judge wrote
in his 103-page decision. In addition, Judge McGinley ruled, the state’s $5 million campaign to explain the law had been full of misinformation that has never been
corrected. He also said that the free IDs that were supposed to be made available to those without driver’s licenses or other approved photo identification were difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain.